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Brothers Honor Grandfather Through Conservation
Brothers Greg and “John J” Redden fell in love with Deerfields — a mountain retreat tucked away in a Henderson County hollow — during their youth. Surrounded on three sides by the Pisgah National Forest and teeming with natural wonders, its appeal was an easy sell to the youngsters.
“To a kid, it was absolute paradise. We would go out and explore all the creeks and hollers,” Greg Redden explained.
Greg and John J’s grandfather, Hendersonville attorney and three-term Congressman Monroe Redden, began acquiring the property in 1927 and with his wife, Mary, ultimately grew Deerfields to more than 900 acres. Generations of the Redden family have cherished the land ever since.
“You know, we grew up here,” Greg said of himself and his brother. “And my father and my uncle grew up here.”
But it was Congressman Redden who was the first to treasure the secluded Deerfields haven. He visited it every afternoon, driving 10 miles from Hendersonville after practicing law in the morning.
“This was his domain. He sat up on the porch and fed the deer,” Greg recalled. “We spent a lot of time with him up here.”
“At one point, our grandmother stood on the porch of the retreat lodge — that she had designed — and remarked that the fields around the cabin were filled with deer,” according John J. “And the name Deerfields was born.”
“Most of my memories here are of exploring the property with Greg,” John J said. “For years, it was our habit to take off on foot to intentionally go where we had not been before. We have traversed each slope and valley, each creek and each tributary.”
One of the first explorations that the brothers undertook on their own was when their grandfather Monroe took them to the top of the ridge, near the highest point on the property. John J recalled, “He told us to get out of the Jeep and ‘follow the creek back to the camp.’ The creek was Queens Creek, for which the mountain is named, and along the way we came upon this place where the water channels through a narrow cut in the rock for 50 feet or so.”
The Redden siblings marveled at how long it must had taken for the creek to cut the notch into the stone. “Excitedly, we raced on down the creek to tell Granddad of our discovery, because we were certain no person had ever seen this before,” John J said. “But Granddad had of course explored the same area and wasn’t surprised, though he was pleased that we appreciated the natural wonder, which I think he had sent us to discover.”
The lure of Deerfields that they experienced during their youth ultimately proved strong enough for the brothers to make it their home as adults. Greg was drawn so powerfully to the property that he moved into its rustic lodge when he was 18 years old. John J couldn’t resist making Deerfields home, either. He and his wife, Deidre, built a house and moved onto the property more than 10 years ago.
Ever since, the Reddens have been driven to protect their beloved Deerfields as they have always known it — the same as their father and grandfather adored it. In 2008, the brothers began exploring permanent protection for their property through Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
“We wanted it to always be like my granddad had it, when we were kids,” Greg explained.
Deerfields’ abundant natural features play a critical role in the quality of life of not just the Reddens, but also of residents and visitors across the region. Should the land be overly developed or logged, negative impacts would likely be felt far from the property’s boundaries — making conservation at Deerfields a high priority for the Reddens and CMLC.
Most notably, Deerfields hosts more than 10 miles of headwater streams of Queen Creek, one of the few previously unprotected tributaries of the South Mills River — the source of drinking water for nearly 100,000 residents in Henderson and southern Buncombe counties.
The property also shares nearly three miles of boundary with the Pisgah National Forest, and its wooded slopes are highly visible from neighboring mountains and ridges, especially from viewpoints along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.
Deerfields also harbors suitable habitat for 27 species of “conservation concern,” as designated by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, including sweetfern and bloodroot.
Many of these natural qualities that make Deerfields so special to the Reddens have also been attractive to potential developers. According to Greg, the Redden brothers have fielded at least a dozen inquiries over the years from interested buyers of the Deerfields tract, many with lucrative offers that would be difficult for most to refuse. “But we’re not interested.”
“What I ask a person trying to purchase this property from me is ‘Where would I go?’ ” Greg said.
That was a question that befuddled potential land prospectors. They suggested that with such a handsome price, the brothers could go anywhere they wanted. “Except home,” Greg said.
One particular offer included a land swap, suggesting a trade for a comparable piece of property as a means to acquire the tract from the brothers. Greg said, “I told them, ‘If there was a comparable piece of property, why don’t you go buy that and leave me alone. There isn’t one.’ ”
The Reddens first partnered with CMLC to conserve 76 acres at Deerfields in 2009 and another 103 acres in 2011 via a conservation easement. The easement permanently extinguishes the property’s development rights to ensure the protection of the land’s precious natural resources.
Just last year, the brothers triumphantly concluded their dream of forever protecting much of the rest of the land that they hold so dear by conserving an additional 649 acres at Deerfields through CMLC. Altogether, 828 acres at Deerfields are permanently protected.
The conservation easements forever safeguard water quality, preserve regional scenic views, and provide a natural buffer to the national forest for plants and wildlife to thrive. This conservation effort of such magnitude was aided by funding from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Department of Justice’s Environmental Enhancement Program, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and private donations.
The final protection of Deerfields was one of 24 projects completed by CMLC in 2013, totaling more than 4,000 acres of newly conserved land in Western North Carolina — the most ever by the land trust in a single year.
CMLC celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, having protected more than 27,000 acres in the French Broad River watershed, Hickory Nut Gorge and Blue Ridge Escarpment.
“It gives me a sense of relief knowing that Deerfields will always be how we’ve known it and loved it,” Greg Redden said. “Granddad loved his place just how it was; he didn’t do anything to change it. I think he left it to us because he knew John J and I would keep it the way that it is.”
Now and forever, that’s exactly what they did.
by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator
Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at www.carolinamountain.org/stories.